This time last year, Columbia Business School was celebrating the culmination of an MBA admissions season that shattered records and went a long way toward assuaging concerns that the coronavirus pandemic would irreparably harm elite MBA programs in the United States. The MBA Class of 2022 at Columbia was bigger, more international, and more female than its predecessors, and at a time when the graduate business education landscape was generally in an uproar. The school’s strong enrollment of foreign students was a particular relief — for Columbia and for peers that struggled in that area.
So … with a return to “normal” in 2021, Columbia’s latest MBA class had a lot to live up to. It did, and then some.
Columbia increased its share of international students to a new record, nearly half the class, up from a rate that was already the highest of any top-20 business school in the United States. It increased its share of women in the MBA for the second year in a row. It saw Graduate Management Admission Test score averages rebound to a three-year high — all while growing the class to its largest size ever, plucked from an applicant pool that was second in size only to last year’s.
GOOD NEWS ABOUNDS FOR CBS — ESPECIALLY FROM OVERSEAS
Last year was simply a banner admissions year for Columbia. Thanks in part to a 51-day deadline extension, the school reversed a two-year slide in MBA applications with a huge increase: 6,971 from 5,876, a one-year jump of more than 1,000, or 18.6%, which blew away the school record of 6,188 set in 2016-2017. Columbia admitted 1,130, only slightly more than the previous year’s 1,122, dropping its acceptance rate to 16.2% from 19.1% in 2019; it also enrolled more: 782, a 3.7% increase on the 2019 class size of 754. Different from most of its peer schools, Columbia has two intakes per year; the class for August entry grew last year from 551 to 571, and the January class grew from 203 to 211.
If anything, this year’s numbers are even more impressive, since they are the result of an un-expanded admissions calendar. Columbia received 6,535 applications in 2020-2021, down just 6.3% from last year and still eclipsing the record from 2016-2017. From this pool, Columbia admitted 1,215, an 85-student increase, or 7.5%; its reported enrollment of 847 — 614 in August, 233 in January — is 65 more, or 8.3% larger, than last fall. The increases did lead to a rise in acceptance rate, to 18.6% — a nearly 15% jump; but that was offset by an improvement in yield, from 69.2% to 69.7%.
2020’s bag of good news at Columbia included the school’s return, after a two-year hiatus, to the select group of elite B-schools with 40% or more women in the full-time MBA, notching upward to 40% from 38%. This fall it improved again, to 41%. In 2020, Columbia’s average GMAT score declined for the second year in row, to 726 from 727 in 2019, down from a school record 732 in 2018; this year the school reversed the slide, bumping its score up to 729.
But perhaps the best news, in 2020 and again in 2021, came from overseas, as the school kept its international population high — the highest of any top-20 school, in fact — despite the headwinds of coronavirus and U.S. government antipathy to all forms of immigration. Last year, Columbia’s international cohort slipped only modestly to 44% from 47%; this year it has rebounded and overtaken its previous high mark with a reported 48% internationals.
KEEPING PACE IN THE M7
Columbia’s new class profile continues a strong 2021 showing for the M7 schools. Like Columbia, Harvard Business School welcomed its largest class of MBA students in history this fall, enrolling more than 1,000 students for the first time ever. In its Class of 2023 profile, made public at the end of August, the school reported a cohort that is 1,010 students strong, a huge jump from last year’s unusually low group of 732 students due to the pandemic. Applications to HBS’s MBA program rose 5% to 9,773 applicants, up from 9,304 a year earlier.
That increase compares to two other M7 schools: Wharton, up 2.5% in apps last year, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, which saw applications plunge 20% but still surpass all non-pandemic cycles. Wharton and Kellogg, after all, experienced massive application boosts during the first year of the pandemic, respectively increases of 21% and 54%, that broke their schools’ previous records.
Columbia is keeping pace with its M7 peers in another key way: women. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School this fall became the first elite business school to enroll a majority of women in its MBA program, with a record 52%, a significant boost from the 41% Wharton enrolled last fall. Meanwhile, Kellogg set its own school record for women enrolled in the MBA: 49%, up from 40% last year and 3 percentage points higher than the previous record set in 2018.
BIG JUMP TO 40% U.S. MINORITIES IN NEW CLASS
How did CBS keep its international numbers so high in the age of Trump and coronavirus? The school’s hybrid or “Hy-Flex” approach played a major role. That system likewise deserves credit for the school’s higher minority enrollment. Minorities of U.S. origin climbed from 33% last year to 40% this year, destined to be among the highest in the top 25. The breakdown is 20% Asian-American, which works out to 104 students; 11% Black, or 59 students; and 9% Hispanic/Latinx, or 42 students.
“Columbia Business School looks for intellectually driven people from diverse educational, economic, social, cultural, and geographic backgrounds,” the school declares in its profile. “Our students share a record of achievement, strong leadership, and the ability to work in teams.”
There were no earth-shattering differences this year in class composition by work background or undergraduate major. Last fall, the largest group of Class of 2021 students came from the financial services sector, accounting for 30% of the entering students — hardly a surprise since Columbia sits in the middle of Wall Street. Consulting backgrounds made up 23% of that class, while marketing and media represented another 14%. Students from the tech industry made up 8% of the class, while those with healthcare backgrounds represented 4%. This year, finance actually ticked up to 31%, consulting down t0 22%, marketing/media down to 12%, and tech up to 9%. Healthcare also ticked up to 5%.
In the fall of 2020, the majority of Columbia’s new MBA class had majored in business (29%) or economics (20%), followed by engineering (17%), social sciences (14%), the humanities (8%), sciences (7%) and technology (3%). This year, business is the runaway leader at 37%, followed by economics (18%), engineering (15%), social sciences (13%), sciences (7%), humanities (6%), and tech (2%).